A chat last night on rlp's site, together with a great post at Less Travelled left me thinking alot about bread. The Eucharist is so utterly central to everything that we do here at St M's that we offer it at least 3 times in the week, apart from 2 Sunday celebrations, and I rejoice in this. For me, this Sacrament has always been the place where I most easily encounter God, and the privilege of speaking the words to enable this for others still blows me away whenever I preside. But when I look at the life of the parish, there does seem to be a strange disjunction between theory and practice. If the Eucharist is above all the place where community is drawn together, you might expect a church family that gathers regularly around the altar to be specially close-knit and aware of each other's needs. St M's people, however, seem on the whole rather suspicious of any thought that they might need to relate to each other. (Of course, there are many exceptions to this, and I'm not implying it is a cold and uncaring church in any way, just not one that is particularly good at family life). Worship is largely about "me and my God", though we seem to have moved from a grudging acceptance of neighbours at the Peace to something rather warmer, less embarrassed, which I hope might be a sign of movement generally. In contrast with the Sunday stiffness, this morning I was at Little Fishes, our toddler group that meets weekly to worship and learn together for 20 minutes or so in church before decamping to the parish centre for coffee and chaos...Today our theme was harvest, so we looked at seeds (all I could find in my cupboard was basil) and thought about what they needed for growth, had some fun watering them and then (having miraculously telescoped several weeks into a couple of minutes) enjoyed the smell and taste of leaves from a flourishing basil plant, and passed round and shared a basil and tomato loaf.
It wasn't the first time I'd broken bread with this group (it feels as if it should happen more often, and grow into something more recognisably eucharistic) but what struck me this morning was one little boy who was very anxious that nobody should be excluded. He made his way round the siblings sleeping in prams, leaving a crumb with each, and wasn't happy till he was certain everyone had received some. But if he comes to the 10.00 on Sunday, he can't expect the same hospitality...How did we reach this point? How have we allowed ourselves to attach so much baggage to the family feast that half of those present are excluded, and many of the others are still struggling with burdens of unworthiness even as they're invited to draw near with faith? God is generous beyond belief, but we have diluted his extravagant gift to a sip of wine and an unappetising but geometrically perfect disc of ...well, you can't call it bread, can you?
I appreciate all the practical arguments in favour of wafers; certainly in a church of our tradition, the prospect of consecrated crumbs on the carpet would cause huge anxiety...but today I'm simply lamenting the way we have chosen to impoverish ourselves, and others, while still proclaiming, as we must, the boundless generosity of God's love.
Meanwhile, back to bread...and to young Sam's generosity. It put me in mind of a poem I loved as a child, Charles Causley's Ballad of the Breadman.
Mary stood in the kitchen
Baking a loaf of bread.
An angel flew in the window
‘We’ve a job for you,’ he said.
‘God in his big gold heaven
Sitting in his big blue chair,
Wanted a mother for his little son.
Suddenly saw you there.’
Mary shook and trembled,
‘It isn’t true what you say.’
‘Don’t say that,’ said the angel.
‘The baby’s on its way.’
Joseph was in the workshop
Planing a piece of wood.
‘The old man’s past it,’ the neighbours said.
‘That girls been up to no good.’
‘And who was that elegant fellow,’
They said. ‘in the shiny gear?’
The things they said about Gabriel
Were hardly fit to hear.
Mary never answered,
Mary never replied.
She kept the information,
Like the baby, safe inside.
It was the election winter.
They went to vote in the town.
When Mary found her time had come
The hotels let her down.
The baby was born in an annexe
Next to the local pub.
At midnight, a delegation
Turned up from the Farmers’ club.
They talked about an explosion
That made a hole on the sky,
Said they’d been sent to the Lamb and Flag
To see God come down from on high.
A few days later a bishop
And a five-star general were seen
With the head of an African country
In a bullet-proof limousine.
‘We’ve come,’ they said ‘with tokens
For the little boy to choose.’
Told the tale about war and peace
In the television news.
After them cam the soldiers
With rifle and bombs and gun,
Looking for enemies of the state.
The family had packed up and gone.
When they got back to the village
The neighbours said, to a man,
‘That boy will never be one of us,
Though he does what he blessed well can.’
He went round to all the people
A paper crown on his head.
Here is some bread from my father.
Take, eat, he said.
Nobody seemed very hungry.
Nobody seemed to care.
Nobody saw the god in himself
Quietly standing there.
He finished up in the papers.
He came to a very bad end.
He was charged with bringing the living to life.
No man was that prisoner’s friend.
There’s only one kind of punishment
To fit that kind of crime.
They rigged a trial and shot him dead.
They were only just in time.
They lifted the young man by the leg,
Thy lifted him by the arm,
They locked him in a cathedral
In case he came to harm.
They stored him safe as water
Under seven rocks.
One Sunday morning he burst out
Like a jack-in-the-box.
Through the town he went walking.
He showed them the holes in his head.
Now do you want any loaves? He cried.
‘Not today’ they said.